Sonia Weston, the Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Cooperation Wonthaggi manager, thinks it is well past time to change the name of the McMillan electorate, in the interests of greater reconciliation. LMcMillan_013714
By Liam Charles
IN 1843, there were approximately 1800 to 3000 members of the Gunai/Kurnai tribe living in Gippsland.
By 1857, Governor Charles Joseph Latrobe estimated that there were only 96 surviving members.
While diseases introduced by the Europeans ravaged many of Sonia Weston’s relatives, the historian PD Gardner believes that the deaths of 1500 people are still unaccounted for.
The man considered to be responsible for many of these deaths is still a revered figure in the community, with statues and street names adorning his name.
He even has a federal electorate named after him in South Gippsland: McMillan.
There is a growing chorus within the Bass Coast and South Gippsland that would like to see the name of Angus McMillan erased from the Australian Electoral Commission, for his many crimes against the Aboriginal peoples.
Sonia Weston, a Boon-wurrung woman, and the Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Cooperation Wonthaggi manager, is leading the charge, along with the Bass Coast/South Coast Reconciliation Group.
“Angus McMillan was the butcher of Gippsland. There is growing evidence that he was responsible for a number of slaughters against the original inhabitants of Gippsland. In one case, at Boney Point, he was an active participant in the carnage,” she told the Sentinel- Times.
According to Ms Weston, many of the elders in Gippsland are still haunted by the events that happened only 160 years ago.
“The pain is still very raw – you can see it in their eyes. Many still won’t go near the places where the massacres occurred, like Warragul Creek, Butchers Creek or the forests of South Gippsland,” she said.
“We are talking about family here, not distant ancestors.”
Ms Weston believes that it is now time to let go of our pride, and re-name the electorate, embracing diversity rather than division.
“We can’t achieve true reconciliation until we finally lay to rest the ghosts of the past. This man murdered hundreds. Why should our people be forced to live under his name, day in, day out? Have they not suffered enough already?”
Angus McMillan’s bloody reign started in 1839, when he crossed the Monaro high plain into Gippsland.
Many of his fellow High Scots (The Highland Brigade), had nothing but contempt for the natives, something of an irony considering their treatment in the Old Country, with Henry Meyrick writing in 1846:
“If I caught a black actually killing my sheep, I would shoot him with as little remorse as I would a wild dog.”
The Gunai/Kurnai people didn’t surrender their lands without a fight, leading to a bitter conflict throughout the early 1840s.
There was no contest though, as the Europeans has the superior firepower, leaving behind a trail of utter devastation, as Don Watson writes about in Caledonia Australis:
“James Warman found one body with three gunshot wounds and a fractured skull on the banks of the [Tambo] and eight more bodies in an Aboriginal camp nearby.”
McMillan even fabricated the kidnapping of a white woman in the pages of the Sydney Herald, to serve as an excuse for a number of campaigns which resulted in mass killings, including upwards 16 in South Gippsland.
PD Gardner has no doubt that it was McMillan, something of a religious extremist by today’s standards that was behind many of the atrocities:
“From the first sighting, McMillan led, provoked, pushed, guided and influenced the course of events. At worst he can be considered a rogue of some stature – his popularity was originally, in large part, directly attributable to his brutal and violent suppression of the original inhabitants of the region.”
Although he eventually became a so-called ‘Protector’ of the aboriginals in 1860, Garner believes this was only a cynical move to protect his dwindling reputation, with McMillan even siphoning off government rations that were supposed to go to the aboriginals.
Ms Weston is confident that there is now enough support in the community, to change the McMillan name, which was bestowed on South Gippsland during the election of 1948-49.
“I know that the Bass Coast and South Gippsland shires will back any submission to the Australian Electoral Commission – they have been great in the journey so far. The younger generation is also hungry for justice,” she said.
“The precedent this will set will be enormous. With greater awareness, will come greater education, in our schools, work places and institutions.
“When I was a small girl, I used to hide in an abandoned train, rather than go to class. The kids at school used to taunt me about my aboriginality. Hopefully other kids don’t have to suffer like this. However, we will only be able to feel proud of our culture if we start to reflect on our shared history. This includes re-naming McMillan.”
The current member of the electorate, Russell Broadbent, has explained to the Sentinel-Times that he understands why many wish to re-name McMillan forever.
“I have every sympathy for those who believe the name of the electorate should be changed. Ultimately, however, that decision would be made by the Australian Electoral Commission. I urge anyone seeking a change of name for the electorate to make representations to the commission,” Mr Broadbent said.
Sonia and the Bass Coast/South Gippsland Reconciliation Group will be doing just that in the following months.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we named the electorate after one the innocents that were killed in McMillan’s campaigns,” she said.
“I know Uncle Albert Mullet, who passed away this year, would be smiling down on us if we did.”